Dancing Across The Decades
For four decades, four generations of women have been sharing their love of dancing with young girls in Drill Team Hawaii, while creating poised, confident young women
Music bounces off the walls in the dance studio as girls take turns leaping through the air and flipping their bodies across the floor.
Between breaks, some girls chatter while stretching, or simply just chatter. Though varying in age, there is no distinct division between the close-knit group.
Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, it is an electric atmosphere that Drill Team Hawaii has fostered since its inception.
At its root is a family of four generations of dancers who have laid the foundation for a program that teaches its participants far more than dancing.
Ninety-three years ago, Anita Edward’s mother enrolled her in dance lessons at the age of 5 – an art she continued to cultivate through high school and during a year in New York. Eventually, she opened her own school, where she taught daughter Penny Young to dance, also at age 5.
“Growing up dancing, it’s been a part of my life,” says Young, who also was in drill team during college.
In 1968, Young moved to Hawaii from Utah to teach at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Finding herself without a dance team and missing it, she made the move into town. There, she was offered a job at St. Andrew’s Priory School and was allowed to start a drill team with the school’s students.
Initially only available to high school students at the Priory, Young eventually opened it to include girls of all ages and from any school.
Now, the team boasts 93 girls ranging in age from 5 years old to seniors in high school, and really is comprised of two groups – St. Andrew’s Priory School’s drill team, The First Priority, and Drill Team Hawaii. Practices still take place at the Priory as they have for the past 40 years, and are held separately and together, though the group considers itself one team that competes together.
The team regularly competes locally and on the Mainland and continues to work with University of Hawaii at Manoa, performing during halftime shows. Its dancers also participate in Pro Bowl performances and, in the past, the group also performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Rose Bowl and on Star Search.
Though several girls have gone on to become professional dancers, it is not the intent of the program.
“Dancing is something they do because they love it – with our group – not because they want to be a dancer for life,” says Young, noting that many former members have gone on to become doctors, teachers and other professionals.
Incorporated into each year is a values program, which seeks to foster the growth of dancers in all areas of life. Various activities during the year address topics such as respect and responsibility, and most recently, the Internet.
Each Christmas, Drill Team Hawaii also participates in Salvation Army’s Angel Tree with their families, and is involved with Help, Understanding and Group Support (HUGS). Annually, the team performs at least twice for the community, visiting care homes and other events.
A values camp held one day each year provides girls with classes on the year’s upheld values.
With little turnover and many dancers staying on until graduating high school, Young has sought to provide each participant with an outlet for their talent and a sort of second home.
“I think it gives them a place to belong, and they just come and feel safe because a lot of times, when they graduate, they’ll say this has been a place where they felt they could be themselves and it was OK, whatever they were,” she explains. “Kids need to have that.”
Today, Drill Team Hawaii remains a family affair.
Young continues to serve as director of the team, along with daughter, co-director and choreographer Febray Kaopua. Kaopua’s three daughters also are members of Drill Team Hawaii, and at 98, though she no longer dances or travels with the team, Edward periodically attends practices to watch and help.
Kaopua’s involvement with Drill Team Hawaii began before she was even old enough to join, attending practices with her mother as a little girl.
“She kept running around. I thought, OK, she may as well be dancing,” says Young. “So, actually, she’s been with me the whole 40 years.”
Since 1988, Kaopua has been teaching alongside her mother, learning to foster the lives of each girl who joins the team.
“She spends hours talking with girls, counseling with girls, and I think through her I’ve learned to kind of do that too,” says Kaopua, “and we spend many hours with the girls outside of drill, not just in drill … it’s just been a way of life for me.”
Kaopua’s oldest daughter, 15-year-old Lexi, whom Young calls “up and coming,” also recently has begun to assist in teaching the girls.
“It’s really neat to see that … this is important enough for them to carry it on,” says Young.
“It’s thrilling for me,” adds Edward, “and I’ve watched each one grow up and improve.”
Annually, Drill Team Hawaii presents an end-ofthe-year showcase performance. This year’s, titled “Now and Then,” will celebrate the troupe’s 40 years. Young and Kaopua also have been in touch with past dancers, attempting to reunite as many Drill Team Hawaii alumni for the performance as possible.
“It’s really neat because there’s that thread that runs through these girls,” says Young.
In the meantime, Young can’t believe 40 years has passed. “If you like it, if you love what you’re doing, time flies by,” she says.
Drill Team Hawaii’s end-of-the-year showcase is slated for July 5 at Hawaii Theatre. Tickets may be purchased through members of Drill Team Hawaii or by calling Hawaii Theatre. For details, call 395-8490 or visit drillteamhawaii.com.